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Watching England in a World Cup semi final

Filed: Wednesday, 11th July 2018
By: sicknote

An "old twat", some of you young'uns might say. "Grumpy and cantankerous", I also hear you say. Yet some of us have done some things in life that will live with us forever.

There are lads here on KUMB who attended the 1966 semi final and final, but they are "very old twats" as I wasnít born till December 1966. My story is Italia 90 - and I was lucky enough to do the whole tournament with England.

Sardinia was not much fun, in fact it was a Carabinieri state and we were a target for the local police. I met Irish lads there and later by chance in Rome and they couldnít believe the intimidation we English fans had from the police compared to them.

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Fortunately the situation improved as the tournament progressed, but the group game against Holland (0-0) game was a low point. I was in a group rounded up at a petrol station, but I was at the back by a low wall which I jumped over to make my escape.

All of those who didnít, got deported - no charges, just rounded up and deported. It was a sign of things to come.

As for the Irish game (1-1), that was the wettest Iíve ever been at any football match. It rained cats and dogs AND fish, the lot. Getting off that island - which was beautiful and still is, as I discovered upon returning two years ago - was a relief as we thought the mainland policing may be a bit more civilised.

How wrong we were.

Rimini next, for the (last 16) match against Belgium. The night before the game I got lucky again, by virtue of not being in the pubs that were raided by police which led to some 250 England fans being deported. Again, there were no charges - just airport and home.

Some of those sent home were genuine holiday makers with their family in the wrong place at the wrong time! However when we arrived in Naples after the Belgium game the policing changed completely and it suddenly became a pleasure to be in Italy.

Anyhow, there was football going on and David Platt's goal in the final minute of extra time against Belgium was one of those 'bobby dazzler' special, special, moments. It was akin to the recent penalty shoot out win over Columbia for its late drama and explosive ending.

It was magical to be there and it sent us on to Naples to face the surprise package of the tournament, Cameroon, in the quarter finals.

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The Africans turned out to be a nerve-racking and dangerous opponent, and we struggled, but Gary Lineker - whilst all around were bricking it - stayed cool amidst huge pressure and calmly put away two top penalties to take us to Turin and a semi final against Germany.

There were a couple of other things from Naples though; for instance the constipated police dog trying to have a dump at half time in the England end (every time he tried it was like he had sat on a cactus and he'd jump out of his skin - he never did have that dump during the game).

And there was the popular England fans' song, "letís all have a disco" which required arms raised high and dancing at the same time. It was already big for us out there but got worldwide attention from England fans doing the conga and the players dancing along with us to it after the game. It was a great night.

We stayed in Naples as two of our group had tickets to the semi final between Italy and Argentina that the hosts lost. We got out sharpish after on an overnight train to Rome, then travelled up to Turin for our semi final against the old enemy, Germany.

Turin was lively. We travelled up on the train overnight but the England camp sites had not fared so well from attacks by Juve fans overnight and the FA had not done enough to look after the fans in a city that was always going to be tough to visit after Heysel four years prior.

And it was - and thatís before the trains from Germany started pouring in from all sorts of German cities.

We were hugely outnumbered, but as I said before the policing (except at the camp site) had improved to the kind of levels we expect these days. It was well organised, there were pockets of carnage and chaos but it was 28 years ago - CCTV may have been around when Michael Caine went to Turin for the Italian Job, but in 1990 there was none.

The Stadio Del Alpe was, for the time, a colossus of a stadium. Terrible views for football, though fortunately perhaps the penalty shoot-out took place at the other end. You couldnít see that from the lower tier at the other end, which may have been a good thing...

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The other end happened to be the England end, as we had got ourselves in the wrong end. Thankfully there were thousands of us in the lower tiers; we had Germans to each side and both tiers above us, singing 'God Save The Queen' that night in our little pocket of England fans was one of my proudest moments at a football match!

The game itself was ours, we produced our best performance of the tournament. We rocked the Germans, a great German team for 120 minutes. Their goal was a fluke, ours was classic England at the time. When Gary Lineker hit it, if it had kept rolling as it went in the net it would have rolled straight to our little section.

We went ballistic in the stands. We were the better and stronger team and, at that moment, looked the only winner, Chris Waddle hit the post from 25 yards out in extra time but the Germans never scared us and I felt positive about penalties early on.

Being in Italy, we had little clue about the euphoria back home. Nor the players, so we were with them in our own little Italian bubble. Some new faces would turn up ahead of each game, the numbers would swell and weíd hear how everyone is behind the team. Even the papers and TV had gone mad for it.

Of course we had no mobile phones to speak of, no internet, nothing - so when us travelling fans arrived back in Blighty we were as shocked as the players when they landed at Luton and couldnít get out the airport because of thousands of wellwishers.

Others who experienced the scenes in the UK during 1990 will testify to that better than me, as I canít. But that night in Turin, the way our team grew and played in that World Cup of Italia 90, will live with me for ever. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I travelled to Italy alone and made friends Iíve kept for life. Some were West Ham United lads Iíd never met before, but I met a lad from Carlisle Utd and a Man City fan. We became inseparable.

Sadly my pal from Carlisle passed away a few years ago and I lost touch with the Man City fella, but it was fantastic meeting fellas from so many different clubs - all getting on and all enjoying our country's football team.

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So I hope you all enjoy your first, second or even third England World Cup Semi Final on Wednesday evening.

But whatever happens, remember how proud sir Alf Ramsey and his squad, Sir Bobby Robson and his squad and Gareth Southgate and his young squad of players have made us feel - and the joy they have bought to England and us ex-pats all over the world.

Come on England!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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